''Erin Brockovich'' keeps ''Mission to Mars'' and ''Final Destination'' down

By Josh Wolk
Updated March 20, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

In case you were one of the few remaining skeptics who didn’t believe Julia Roberts was bankable, the final piece of confirming evidence came this weekend when her ”Erin Brockovich” easily took the top spot at the box office with an estimated $28.2 million. Roberts has been consistently scoring with romantic comedies, but the fact that this was a legal drama didn’t scare anybody away: ”Brockovich” was her second-highest opening ever, behind ”Runaway Bride.”

There wasn’t room for much else once ”Brockovich” was done filling theaters. Bad word of mouth caught up in warp speed to ”Mission to Mars,” which dropped 52 percent after last weekend’s big opening: It took in only $10.9 million for second place. The weekend’s other major debut, ”Final Destination,” followed with $10.2 million. Rounding out the top 5 were ”My Dog Skip,” with $5.5 million and ”The Ninth Gate,” with $3.5 million.

”Destination” didn’t have any major stars to drag people in (Devon Sawa doesn’t quite have that Julia Roberts fan base yet), so New Line splurged on advertising. Studio execs told Variety that stats indicated 32 percent of the young audience was sucked in by the creepy print ads, which showed teens with half-skull faces. Boy, if ”Erin Brockovich” had cast more skin-molting zombies, imagine the grosses then!

CRITICAL MASS According to our online Critical Mass Movie Poll, ”Erin Brockovich” had much more than Julia Roberts to make it a hit. While 46 percent of EW readers said they went because of Roberts, 15 percent cited the positive critical response as their reason to go, and 7 percent said it was director Steven Soderbergh. And moviegoers didn’t go away disappointed, giving the film an overall B+. The same percentage of people — 78 — said ”Erin” was better than they expected and that they would definitely recommend it to others.

While ”Final Destination” didn’t have the grosses of ”Brockovich,” it also got a B+, with an impressive 62 percent saying it was better than they expected, and 73 percent saying they would definitely recommend it. As New Line suggested, the film owed much of its cash to advertising: Sixty-nine percent of online viewers said they went because of the trailer, and 11 percent said they were lured by other ads.

To vote on these and other current movies, visit the Critical Mass Movie Poll.